Impeachment Inquiry Puts Perry on Spot 10/20 09:46
Long after more flamboyant colleagues flamed out of President Donald Trump's
favor amid ethics scandals, low-profile and folksy Rick Perry survived in the
Cabinet in part by steering clear of controversy.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Long after more flamboyant colleagues flamed out of
President Donald Trump's favor amid ethics scandals, low-profile and folksy
Rick Perry survived in the Cabinet in part by steering clear of controversy.
The former Texas governor said Thursday he was quitting as energy secretary
by year's end. The announcement came as the House impeachment investigation
highlighted his work in Ukraine, where he promoted U.S. natural gas and where
Trump hoped to find dirt on Democratic rival Joe Biden.
Trump said that Perry, one of his longest serving Cabinet members, had
planned for months to leave. But the timing of the announcement of Perry's
departure fits a Trump pattern, said governance expert Kathryn Dunn Tenpas of
the Brookings Institution. Her work shows there has been more turnover in
Trump's Cabinet than under any president since at least Ronald Reagan.
"The more important the issue is to the president, the more likely you're on
the chopping block," Tenpas said.
No evidence has emerged that Perry explicitly pressured Ukrainian officials
to comply with Trump's push to investigate a Ukraine natural gas company where
Biden's son Hunter was a board member. It's a central part of the impeachment
Perry, an evangelical who takes part in weekly Cabinet Bible studies, told a
Christian broadcast news outlet his month that, "God as my witness," he never
heard any administration figure specifically mention either Biden in
discussions about corruption investigations in Ukraine.
Perry did publicly pressure Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, for
unspecified reforms "in the energy sector," however, including in comments at
Zelenskiy's May inauguration.
That was one of several Perry trips and meetings putting him in contact with
Ukraine and U.S. figures playing pivotal roles in the actions now being studied
by the House committees investigating impeachment.
Perry also was present for at least part of a White House meeting in July
with then-natural security adviser John Bolton and other U.S. and Ukrainian
officials. Perry, at the time, tweeted out a photo of the group lined up in
front of the White House and called it a "productive discussion."
Trump is trying to block members of his administration from testifying
before lawmakers who are investigating whether Trump used the powers of his
office for personal political aims in Ukraine. The Energy Department on Friday
refused to comply with a House subpoena for Perry.
A top State Department official, George Kent, has testified that the White
House deputized Perry, Ukraine envoy Kurt Volker and Trump's European Union
ambassador, Gordon Sondland, to run U.S. policy in Ukraine. "It's outrageous,"
said Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J.
Perry's public mission in Ukraine was in line with U.S. and European policy
in place before the Trump administration: "flood" Europe with imported natural
gas, as Perry said in a video in 2015, even before Trump won office. The policy
is designed to help Ukraine and other Eastern European countries escape the
political dominance that Russia's control of the region's energy supply has
helped give Moscow.
Perry's Texas roots gave him ties with the oil and gas companies exporting
to Europe. But there are no allegations that Perry improperly arranged natural
gas deals to benefit oil friends.
Corruption in Ukraine can make doing business there dodgy, and Ukraine lacks
the giant natural gas terminals and other facilities to import much natural gas
shipments directly, energy experts say. That's made it less of a targeted
customer for Western natural gas sales than, for example, Poland.
Poland has done much better economically than Ukraine since the breakup of
the Soviet Union, enabling Polish leaders to win favor with Trump by buying
U.S. warplanes and natural gas.
Perry has acknowledged that he consulted on Ukraine matters with Trump's
personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani served as one of Trump's main, back
channel movers in the administration's 2020-related political efforts in
Ukraine, in talks bypassing official U.S. government channels.
The U.S. has indicted associates of Giuliani on allegations they illegally
tried to funnel cash to Republican politicians, using a natural gas company as
a front. It's part of the tangle of business and political administration
efforts in Ukraine that impeachment investigators are trying to unravel.
The world Perry moves in as he promotes U.S. natural gas is rife with fringe
characters, says Edward Chow, an expert in Eastern European and international
energy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank.
"There's always these middlemen. Usually they present themselves as having
some kind of political connections. Ninety-nine percent of these middlemen
never score a deal," Chow said. "They talk about billion-dollar deals, and it's
like, "Yeah? What's your bank number?'"
Publicly, Perry moved through that world as a champion of U.S. energy and
energy policy, advocating for American oil and gas and coal, a Trump priority,
but also encouraging countries to build up solar, wind and nuclear power.
James Melville Jr., U.S. ambassador to Estonia until he resigned last year
in protest of Trump's treatment of European allies, said he was "positively
impressed" by Perry, in some ways, in their one encounter at an event on Baltic
Perry "was friendly, he was cordial, he was talkative," and willing to meet
Estonian officials that Melville brought over to introduce.
"He struck me very much as a politician," Melville said. "Broad knowledge
but not very deep" when it came to science-heavy matters under Perry's
stewardship as energy secretary.
Before now, Perry's defining national moment came as a presidential
candidate, when he forgot the name of the Energy Department in a 2011 debate as
he was listing Cabinet agencies he wanted to eliminate.
As energy secretary, by most accounts he has been an active and eager
leader, visiting the country's research labs and touring power plants. He
worked well with lawmakers, in a job that required him to appeal annually to
Congress for money for projects despite Trump's own call for cuts.
"The coolest job I've ever had," he said in his departure video Thursday.
Perry stayed low-key with policy aims that ran counter to the president's
likes, tamping down public shows of support for the wind turbines he had
promoted as Texas governor, for example.
"The secretary knows he works for the president ... and a large part of his
job is enhancing and defending his administration's and the president's policy
goals. And he has done that," noted Ray Sullivan, Perry's former chief of staff